What date are your bills due on?
That is a simple question. I would surmise on any bill you receive — whether its electronic or in the mail — there is a clear date the bill is due.
This is important for many American consumers and small businesses, who are balancing their cash flow, trying to maintain a good credit rating, and (of course) pay their bills on time.
I hate personal anecdotes, but one came up recently that I have to share: American Express. In general, I am pleased with the level of service, and they make managing a small business easier with consolidated reporting. But one thing they do drives me crazy: They don’t tell their customers the due date of their bills.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is true. (I had a long conversation with someone there recently on this).
Look at your AMEX bill. Nowhere on their monthly invoice is an actual due date. Instead, there are two dates on the invoice:
• The billing cycle Closing Date;
• Something Amex politely calls the “Please Pay By” date;
Neither of these is the actual due date on the Gold Card.
Here’s the crazy: The actual date monies are due is not on the invoice — anywhere — and is something all AmEx cardholder must calculate themselves.
Impossible you say? Why would any company do that? Read on.
Let’s use my invoice as an example.
In modestly sized type at the top of the first page of the monthly bill, we see that Closing Date of 5/21/13. That is the end of that billing period.
Then in bigger bolder type is the “Please Pay By June 5th” invoice date. (Note that this bill arrived on June 1st).
I call up AmEx to see why we are getting our bill so close to the due date, and the service person politely tells me that is not the due date. I inform her that it is the only date on the entire invoice. After some cajoling, she tells me that the due date is 30 days after the end of the billing period — in this case 5/21. I say so this is due June 21st? No, because May has 31 days, its due on June 20th.
Why don’t you guys just put the due date on the damned bill?
The answer it turns out is simple: FLOAT. American Express hides their due date, puts a Please Pay By on their invoices, and guess what happens? Millions of busy small business owners and harried families pay a few weeks early.
Thus, for the omission of a simple honest due date, Dow component American Express manages to capture 100s of millions of dollars per year in free money. All they have to do to earn it is engage is one of the most misleading consumer finance practices I have ever come across.
As misleading as this billing practice is, it is an improvement from the prior bit of outright Fraud AmEx used to do, where in they wrote Due Date instead of Please Pay By. (They ended up refunding $85 million dollars and paying a fine and settling)
There is the state of Consumer Affairs in America: We think it is an improvement when Fraud is replaced with Deceptive Billing Practices.
IS IT ASKING TOO MUCH FOR THE ACTUAL DUE DATE TO BE CLEARLY PRINTED ON THE BILL?